Hall County Schools could begin accepting out-of-district students by as early as this fall, if space is available.
According to Hall Schools’ superintendent Will Schofield, there are around 1,000 empty seats throughout the school system — spread out between the 33 schools.
What if, he proposes, those seats could be filled by tuition-paying students once local students are done with registration?
“One of the things we’ve been aware of is that, for decades, many of our neighboring systems have allowed out-of-district students to apply and we never have,” said Schofield.
If talks progress, out-of-county students could fill empty Hall seats by the start of next school year.
But, Schofield says, it would have to be beneficial to Hall County and the priority for choice programs and classes will be given to local students.
“If we get into this, it would have to be a cash-positive situation,” he said.
Hall County, in recent memory, has not opened its educational borders to other counties due to the lack of space.
The last time out-of-district students took classes in Hall County was in the early 1990s. Between eight and 10 students, mostly former Hall residents, paid tuition in Hall County.
“I think it’s time for us to start exploring it,” said Nath Morris, Hall County Board of Education chairman.
Out-of-county students would only be allowed to schools with teachers and infrastructure already in place.
The possible policy change could pave the way for a substantial out-of-county enrollment boost once the system moves forward with its plan for online-based, blended-learning curriculum.
“(The out-of-district enrollment) will be fairly small in nature if, in fact, we go this direction to start with,” said Schofield. “But we just have the confidence that we will have one of the most powerful blended-learning, online learning options in the state.”
The online platform could allow students to take classes remotely, lessening the days actually spent in class. That, in turn, could clear resources for additional students — with more coming from out of the district.
That curriculum, however, will not be implemented until at least fall 2013, if not further into the future.
The out-of-district boost, if it moves forward, Schofield said would fill, at best, about 10 percent of those 1,000 empty seats.
“It would be fairly limited to start with, but it gets us running toward (blended-learning),” he said.
If the school system can generate some revenue from the tuition and the federal and state funding boost associated with out-of-district students, it could help balance a shrinking budget.
“Let’s just be honest,” Schofield said. “In these economic times, if we have 1,000 empty seats and the costs are fixed and we can put kids in and capture (federal and state funds) and some tuition, then we have to look after our own first.”
Tuition costs have not been discussed and talks will likely continue in the coming weeks.